Searching for Mr. Europe Name-Dropping Begins for EU's First President

Less than one year from now, the European Union will choose its first long-term president. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appears to be the front-runner right now, but a number of senior statesment have emerged as viable candidates.

It took years for the European Union to finally agree that it should even have a president. Now, with just 12 months to go before the 27-member bloc is set to inaugurate its first full time leader, the name-game surrounding the position has begun in earnest. And so has the backbiting.

Until now, the bloc's leadership was passed around on a rotating basis, with a new country taking the helm every six months. But according to the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, signed in the Portuguese capital in December and currently in the process of being ratified across the continent, the new "President of the European Council" will hold office for a two-and-a-half year term.

Tony Blair is one prominent name that has been bandied about recently. The former British prime minister is said to have a good shot, and he has powerful friends. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has thrown his support behind Blair for reasons of both personality and politics -- and Blair even spoke French during a recent speech in France that many are describing as his campaign kick-off event.

But numerous Social Democrats and most Christian Democrats, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, aren't as impressed. On Monday, the Daily Telegraph also reported that senior allies of current Prime Minister Gordon Brown were plotting to wreck Blair's ambitions for the post out of concern that his appointment could reignite old divisions within his Labour Party. The office could also come at considerable expense to Blair, who is currently earning millions of pounds as a bank lobbyist, author and as part of the VIP speech circuit. All that would be history should he end up with the prestigious Brussels post.

A less glamorous candidate for the office is long-time Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. But despite the drab factor, Juncker has friends and supporters in the right places. As the leader of one of Europe's smallest countries, he would also be seen as a sort of insurance policy for smaller EU countries that their interests would not be steamrolled by larger member states like Germany. He also enjoys excellent relations with both Merkel and Sarkozy.

Other early names making the informal lists of candidates include former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the latter likewise palatable to Europe's mini-countries.

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar also has an outside shot. His biggest opponent, however, is current Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The left-leaning Zapatero apparently can't stand his conservative predecessor.



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